Strength in Numbers

Facing down middle school and high school math? Help your student master mathematics with these parent/teacher tips.

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Do not rely solely on memorization and practice drills to teach math. Focus on the "why."

Middle school and high school math are tough for students with ADHD. For one thing, the concepts get more abstract. Shifting to ADD-friendly ways of teaching at home and in the classroom will enable students to master the material.

Tools for Teachers

>Encourage active learning. Before showing students how to solve word problems, give them a word problem and encourage them to work with peers to develop various methods to solve it. Some students will draw a picture to solve the problem; others will use mental math and solve it in their head. Others may identify key words within the word problem and use the standard algorithm to solve it. Give students time to discuss how they came to their own solutions.

>Set up shop. Open a classroom store/bank in which students use checkbooks and transaction sheets for deposits and withdrawals. Collect shopping circulars and allow students to shop in class. Give them a set amount of "money," and have them re-calculate their balance as they purchase items. The class store will give students an idea of how money is managed while reinforcing addition, subtraction, decimals, and dollar/cent notation.

>Make learning musical. Many children like to sing along with tapes that set multiplication tables and other math concepts to catchy tunes. To engage students in your class, come up with chants or class songs set to a familiar tune.

>Get other students to teach. You've just taught a well-planned math lesson, but most of your students respond with a blank stare. Change your approach and allow the students who get it to teach it. Providing students the opportunity to work in teams lets them learn from, share strategies with, and exchange feedback with peers, which is an effective way to gauge and evaluate student understanding. It also allows students the opportunity to discuss difficult concepts using age-appropriate terminology and examples that students are apt to comprehend.

>Teach the properties of key math concepts. Do not rely solely on memorization and practice drills to teach math. Focus on the "why." For example, teach properties and rules of multiplication (before introducing basic facts), such as whenever you multiply a number by two, the product will end in an even number. This approach has been successful for our students who struggle in math. When we ask students with a learning disability why 5 x 2 is not 11, they reply, "Any number multiplied by 2 should have an even product. Eleven is not an even number, so it is not the correct answer."

Pointers for Parents

>Be upbeat about math. Many parents don't like math because they did poorly in it in school. Remain positive about the subject, so you don't pass along negative views to your child. Also, know your limits when working with him. Help him in areas in which you are confident, and hire a tutor for topics in which you are not.

>Key into your child's learning style. Accommodating your child's learning style will make the difference between his doing well and failing math. Visual learners may master multiplication more easily if they can draw the problems. Five times six can be drawn with five rows of six objects in each row. When your child counts the objects, he will have 30. Auditory learners can master multiplication facts more quickly if they use a skip-counting jingle or a multiplication rap. Tactile/kinesthetic learners may benefit from using Unifix cubes—colorful interlocking cubes similar to Legos. If Unifix cubes are unavailable, use bingo chips, beans, or coins.

>Stay open to new approaches. Solving a double-digit multiplication problem the conventional way may be a no-brainer for you; however, there are other approaches, such as repeated addition and the break-apart strategy, which may be easier for your child to understand. Encourage your child to explain his thinking process while solving problems. You may learn something, too.

>Use math in everyday activities. If you are serving a snack, such as cookies or grapes, allow your child to divide snacks among family members as a quick multiplication/division problem. While at a grocery store, practice converting ounces to pounds. On your ride home, tell him to pick out four passing cars on the road. Ask him how many cars were red, then ask him what fraction of the cars were red. If two of the four cars that passed were red, the fraction would be 2/4.

>Create and use manipulatives. Using items around the house for a math lesson will strengthen a child's grasp of key concepts. Use uncooked pasta or dried beans to reinforce the concepts of division, subtraction, and addition. Try placing 40 items on a table. Then ask your child to divide them into 5 groups of 8 -- or subtract 10 and add back five.

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This article appears in the Fall 2012 issue of ADDitude.
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